Eminem has joined the likes of Rick Rubin, Grizzly Bear, A-Trak and The-Dream by becoming the latest Genius-verified artist. The rapper has annotated more than 40 lyrics for tracks from across his own catalog and select songs by other artists. Throughout his annotations, Eminem gets candid about his life and career, discussing his addiction to pills and sometimes-fraught relationship with his colleagues.
The annotations follow his recent celebration of Shady Records’ 15th anniversary. His personal notes on the lyrics and songs range from recollections of how they were produced to his mental state at the time he recorded them. Plus, the rapper offers some insight on his humor, detailing how his more surreal quips come about. The whole thing is worth a read, but here are 10 of Eminem’s best Genius annotations.
1. “Biggie/Tupac Live Freestyle” (1999)
Lyric: [Entire Notorious B.I.G.’s verse]
There’s people who rap to make songs, just because they enjoy doing it and want to express themselves. And then there are people who rap competitively. I believe that anybody who competitively raps — like Drake and Kendrick and Jay-Z — raps to be the best rapper. People diss each other, but it’s more in the vein of “How can I kill you with record sales? Or with a flow? How can I be better than you at making records, at punchlines, metaphors, wordplay, syllables?”
But when you have two rappers like Biggie and Tupac getting into it, you get the hip-hop community torn. No one wants to see something real happen. If for a second you entertain the idea of that being entertaining, if something ever happened out of that? No. That’s not healthy.
2. “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” (1999)
Lyric: “So put my tape back on the rack/Go run and tell your friends my shit is wack”
When we put [Eminem’s 1996 debut album] Infinite out, it was local. We pressed up under a thousand, initially. We expected we’d be able to get something with it, though. When that didn’t happen, it was really deflating. People were saying that I sounded like AZ and Nas. I was upset. Not to say that I didn’t love AZ and Nas, but for a rapper to be compared to someone, for people to say that you sound like someone else — nobody wants that. I had to go back to the drawing board. So I remember getting mad. I was like, “I’m gonna rap like I don’t care anymore. Fuck it.” I started to write angry songs like “Just Don’t Give a Fuck.”
Lyric: “Slim Shady, Eminem was the old initials (bye bye!)”
Coming out with an alias was part of Proof’s whole idea. He said, “Let’s be in a group called D12, and there will be six of us, and we’ll each have an alias. We’ll each be two different people.” When I started rapping as Shady, as that character, it was a way for me to vent all my frustrations and just blame it on him. If anybody got mad about it, it was him that said it. It was a way for me to be myself and say what I felt. I never wanted to go back to just rapping regular again.
4. “My Name Is” (1999)
We saw [the video] for the first time on MTV. It came on really late at night. That’s when it was like, “OK, this isn’t a joke anymore.” We had kind of felt that, being in the studio with Dre and shit. But once that single came out, my life changed like that. Within a day. Just going outside. I couldn’t go outside anymore. In a day. It went from the day before, doing whatever the fuck I wanted to do, because nobody knew who the fuck I was, to holy shit, people are fucking following us. It was crazy. That’s when shit just got really — it was a lot to deal with at once.
5. “Lose Yourself” (2002)
Lyric: “Food stamps don’t buy diapers, and there’s no movie/There’s no Mekhi Phifer, this is my life”
Putting the name of the actor right there in the lead single was just about the rhymes. I had started with this syllable scheme — “somebody’s paying the pied piper” and “Mekhi Phifer” ended up fitting. That was all it was.
That was one of those songs where I remember telling [manager] Paul [Rosenberg], “I don’t know how to write about someone else’s life.” Because the movie is not me; the movie is Jimmy Smith Jr. So I’m playing this character, but I have to make parallels between my life and his, in this song. I gotta figure out how to reach a medium. It would sound so corny if I was just rapping as Jimmy Smith Jr. How is that going to come from a real place?
If I’m telling you that my daughter doesn’t have diapers, I need this amount of money to pay my bills this month, and it’s some real shit I’m telling you, then you know that it’s just coming from me. That was the trick I had to figure out — how to make the rhyme sound like him, and then morph into me somehow, so you see the parallels between his struggles and mine.
6. “8 Mile: Final Battle” (2002)
This is Rabbit’s battle, not mine. I had a big battle of my own, and it was definitely not like Rabbit’s.
We had pressed up The Slim Shady EP and it was doing pretty well in Detroit. At some point, [Rap Coalition founder] Wendy Day called me and said, “I want you to be on the battle team. I got you a ticket to the Rap Olympics in Los Angeles.”
I went to the Olympics, got all the way to the end, and then lost to the last guy. The guy who won was Otherwize, from L.A. It was a local thing. They had a bunch of crowd support there. When I rapped, he went and hid behind a video screen. He walked away while I was rapping. I didn’t have anyone to battle! I’d never been in a situation like that before. I went through a lot of people to get through to the end, and then he walked away while I was rapping. I’m like, “What the fuck do I do?” I was devastated.
I come off stage. I’m like, that’s it. It’s over for me. This kid from Interscope, Dean Geistlinger, walks over and he asks me for a copy of the CD. So I kind of just chuck it at him. It was The Slim Shady EP. We come back to Detroit, I have no fucking home, no idea what I’m gonna do. Then, a couple weeks later, we get a call. Marky Bass said, “Yo, we got a call from a doctor!”
7. “Sing for the Moment” (2003)
Lyric: [Verse 1]
This is where I was dealing with critics who didn’t understand why people were identifying with me. I realized I was becoming like the rappers that I looked up to as a kid. I identified with and loved LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. I felt like if everybody didn’t understand their music, it didn’t matter — they were speaking to me. So that’s what I was trying to make people realize on this track. I may not be shit to you, but there’s a kid in fucking Nebraska, or somewhere, that I’m talking to. I don’t care if you’re listening, because he’s listening. That’s who I’m directing my material at.
8. “Fack” (2005)
It was a goofy fucking song. I was taking a lot of fucking pills at the time. Ambien will make you do crazy shit. Imagine if you took it all day long.
9. “Rap God” (2013)
Lyric: “Ungh, school flunky, pill junkie/But look at the accolades, these skills brung me”
I don’t ever want to be too braggadocious. If I’m going to brag, let me pull it back with lines like “school flunky, pill junkie.” I’m a fucking waste of life. I’m a waste of sperm. I am a fucking outcast of society, I am a piece of shit. But I know how to rap. Other than that, I’m a fucking scumbag. I’m worthless. Or this is what I’ve been told.
10. “Shady XV” (2014)
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Lyric: “I slap Linda Ronstadt with a lobster, throw her off a balcony/Just so happens she’s fond of algae”
Let’s say I’m writing, and I lock onto Linda Ronstadt. I’m in the studio and I chuckle. Someone hears me and is like, “What the fuck are you laughing at?” It’s because I thought of something funny that rhymes with something. I’m not gonna not say this, because it’s funny, regardless of whether or not it’s fucked up. If it happens to connect and there’s some kind of humor in it, some reason for it to rhyme with something else, then I’m going to say it.
When I’m pushing boundaries, I want to make sure that I keep myself in check. I want you to know that this rhyme might be fucked up or funny or not, or whatever. I’m aware of it and I know I’m probably fucked up for saying it.
I don’t think it’s any different than what comedians do. Have you ever seen Lisa Lampanelli? She takes the piss out of herself while she says these ridiculous things. You’re like, “That was fucked up,” and then she comes right behind it with some self-deprecating thing about herself. She’s figured out a way to weave certain things together that’s very clever.